From July 20-26, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be an animal keeper. Be sure to follow along with our keeper profile series during this great week celebrating zookeepers!
Keeper Profile: Memory Mays
Hi Memory! Tell us a little about yourself. Since we’re always asked what it takes to be a zookeeper, can you give us some details about your journey to the Houston Zoo?
Hi! I’ve been employed here for a little over 2 years now. I received a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Minor in Chemistry from University of Houston. The Houston Zoo is, so far, the only zoo I’ve worked at. I even volunteered here as Zoo Crew when I was 13 years old. And even then, I volunteered in the Hoofstock Department. I love hoofstock!
What is a typical day like for you?
Every day at 7 a.m., we start our day with a morning meeting where we all discuss the day’s upcoming events and projects that need to be done. After that, the team splits up to go to their assigned sections. This is when I say ‘good morning’ to all of the animals that I get to work with and check to make sure everyone was comfortable over night. Then, it’s time to prepare foods and distribute them to everyone and give medications to any animals that need it. After that comes the most time-consuming part of the job. Cleaning. We clean the exhibits, let the animals out onto exhibit, and then we clean all of our barns, dishes, tools, and much more. The afternoon is normally spent working on projects and, my personal favorite, animal training sessions.
What would you say is the part of your job that you enjoy the most?
My absolute favorite part of being a zookeeper is spending time with the animals and learning all of their funny little quirks. Just like people, animals have personalities and some of their quirks are really funny.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of the job is definitely the fact that we work outside in the Houston weather. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, scorching hot, or on rare days…freezing; you’re going to see us zookeepers out there taking care of the animals, making sure they are happy and comfortable. Even if that requires us to sweat a lot, or wear 5 layers of clothing, we do it because we love what we do.
What is one thing you want visitors to know about being a zookeeper?
It takes a long time before you can call yourself fully trained as a zookeeper. In some other jobs, you go through a 4-week or 6-month training period. I’ve been here for a little more than 2 years now, but I’m still learning new things every day.
Do you have any good stories to share?
One very cold winter day, my co worker and I decided to give the rhinos and greater kudu antelope some natural enrichment. Enrichment involves different items, scents, or props we use to encourage the animals to use behaviors they would use in the wild. For this day, what we had in mind required one of us to climb into the rhino mud wallow and smear mud all over a barrel. Guess who drew the short straw… yours truly! After 15 minutes in the very cold mud wallow with mud up to my elbows, we hung the barrel up and left the exhibit. As we let the animals out on exhibit, we anxiously watched to see if they would play with it… Guess what happened. Nothing! All of the animals walked right by the barrel without a second glance. That’s what happens sometimes when you put out enrichment items. That’s OK though because we got a good story and some funny pictures out of it!